So how do you do great design in a rapid, multidisciplinary and inclusive way?
How do you set up new projects for success in a fast moving, agile environment?
How do you ensure shared understanding and ownership of new initiatives in just a few days?
I now focus a lot of time on facilitating collaborative design workshops, and other methods focused on quickly creating a shared understanding of objectives and buy-in for and execution approach.
In my experience if you set up a new project well a good team can then pick up the ball and run with it. On the other hand, if a project has a wobbly start – with a lack of vision and differing understanding of the objectives – then even the best team can be doomed to failure.
So before i bore you to death talking about it, i will start with a timelapse video of a Collaborative design workshop showing the kind of thing i am going to talk about.
Below is a photo of the core team discussing the final Sketchboard. Its worth noting that there are also priority and sequencing notes – so its a definintion of both what to build, and how to go about it.
So whats going on here?
- 0 sec – Introduction
Firstly me, recapping where we are at, and the structure of the upcoming 2 hour workshop
- 7 sec – Teams sketching designs and page flows
for a different part of the application in parallel. One team on each table, with a mix of Technical, Business and User Experience stakeholders
- 15 sec – Starting to Construct Design Sketchboards
each team has a wall and starts constructing the sketches into flows and processes
- 30 sec – Sharing back progress
and gather feedback from the rest of the group
- 55 sec – Consolidating the designs
first deconstructing then reconstructing each of the sketch boards. Walking thru areas that need further refinement or development, and using the walls to plan activities in the next round of design
Whats the output?
Again, before I smother you with the detail of how to do it, I will start with the typical output of 3-4 days of collaborative design workshops. This example was part of a 2 week build Inception. The output was used to drive technical story writing, estimation and planning for agile build phase.
- Business Model Canvas
a definition of who our customers are, what value we will be delivering to them, and how the business will deliver this value – framing the business drivers / objectives and resource required by the project.
- Customer Journey Maps
exploring typical journey customers will experience when attempting to extract value from our services. Their motivations, goals and fears and how these define “moments of opportunities” in their journeys. Or more simply, “How might we…” add real value for our customers.
- Design Sketchboards
a way of translating “How might we…” design challenges into design solutions. A sketch based method for rapidly developing and sharing design concepts. In the end, its the Design Sketchboards that are the real deliverable of these workshops. They represent a great starting point for either writing stories for estimation, or as a clear brief for a UX designer to develop an interactive prototype for customer testing and business validation.
Ok. lets look at the process
1. Kicking Off
If your gathering 10-15 people together for workshops, taking 50% of their time for a number of days then your asking for a big commitment and YOU BETTER HAVE A PLAN!
You need to be clear about when they need to be there (i use 2 x 2 hour workshops per day), what process they will go on (sample assets always help) and most importantly a strict and clear shedual of activities and timing for each activity. If your going to work them hard, then you need a whip. Having a plan is the whip.
Pre-planning the teams is also a good idea in order to ensure a good mix of disciplines. A sample 3 day workshop agenda is shown below.
2. Understanding the Business Objectives and Drivers
I use the business model canvas, objective statements and other fairly standard inception activities to drive out a shared understanding of the Business Drivers. If your staring an inception workshop there is a good chance there is someone standing there with a bucket of money and some expectations. Its good to start by understanding what these expectations are. I have posted about the business model canvas before – so wont go into to much detail here.
Below is a time-lapse of me facilitating the session. What i think is clear is you need a clear, predefined structure, plenty of wall space and (this is the hard bit) the ability to rapidly make sense of the flow of post-it notes that are developed during the session. I have created a set of cheat cards to help facilitate these sessions. A link to the PDF is available below.
3. Understand the Customer Journey
Mapping out the customer journey lets you understand the real world experience for your customers, and describes the context within which your service will exist. Below is a timelapse videos of a customer journey session.
The basic process (and time stamps within the video) are …
- 0 sec – Introduce the activity
i find starting with a blank template on the wall helps
- 8 sec – Define who you are focusing on
split into teams and develop personas, motivations fears and goals. We developed our personas using data from previous user testing participants.
- 15 sec – Share back your personas
Add you notes to the wall, share back
- 20 sec – Map out the journey
You need to have start and end points for the journey (in this case i created these before the workshop started). Get each team to map ou the tasks, steps, phases, transitions, touchpoints… anything that describes the customer experience
- 30 sec – Share back to the group
Share back where they think they can effect real change or add value
- 35 sec – Identify moments of opportunity
Get each team to map on emotions, moments of truth, pain pionts, etc and identify where you can effect real change or add value
- 40 sec – Extract out Design Challenges
Translate moments of opportunity into design challenges, and map these onto the journey. In the video these are the white cards above all the post-it notes. You then need to prioritise the “how might we…” challenges and decide which ones you are going to tackle in the next phase.
Output – before and after images of the Customer Journey Template in use
the value in developing customer journeys two fold
- The “how might we…” design challenges are an excellent design brief for the next sketch design phase. The process ensures that you have coverage across the entire journey – not just focusing on one small (and usually hard to implement) part of the application.
- You get shared understanding of the context – an understanding of the technology solution in the context of a real life person, doing real life things, with real life motivations, fears and goals
4. Design the experience together – using a design Sketchboard
Design Sketchboards are a place to explore flows, sketch ideas and collaboratively build up a vision for the experience design for key area’s within the service. I was first introduced to this way of working via Leah Buley and Brandon Schauer from Adaptive path. Much of what i describe below is based on their method, as are the 1 up and 6 up templates.
As the name suggests it requires people to sketch. Now you may think this is challenging for some people, but all you need to do is give them the right tools and train them up a bit. If you can sprinkle UX’ers or other people you know who can draw around the teams it helps.
Again, i have Adaptive path / UXweek 2010 to thank for reminding me about getting back to basics with drawing. There was a time when i simply thought sketching was a waste of time (i could do it a thousand times quicker in fireworks, and generate interactive prototypes really quickly) BUT what I missed is the shared, team aspect that getting everyone to draw brings with it.
learning to draw – Tool up and warm up
Moving from chicken scratches, to what looks like professional sketching is mainly a matter of tools and process. The tools you need are a range of good quality pens and markers – see below. the process is basically :
- Use the 1up and 6up templates – it build confidence
- start drawing with the thinest pen (this is where most people stop)
- give the drawing structure with the thicker sharpie
- push areas forward and back using the grey marker
- highlight key areas with yellow
to warm up start with drawing boxes, then move to practising drawing some fictional website homepage.
examples of pens, and outputs of warmups exercises below
Have a look at the video’s, everyone is drawing – I hardly ended up drawing a thing! (well… i helped the teams throughout the process and often leaped in to quickly sketch up areas they were having problems with)
Below is a timelapse video of setting up and using a Design Sketchboard.
The basic process (and time stamps within the video) are …
- 0 sec – Introduce the activity
Basically assign each of the teams design challenges, and introduce using the 1 up and 6 up templates
- 5 sec – Exploratory Sketching
Identify key pages or moments within the service – Generate at least 6 different ways to approach the problem
- 10 sec – Start structuring the Sketchboard
Pasting up design options and sequencing page flows. Draw the flow: How do you get from one screen or state to the other? Add it to the sketch board
- 15 sec – Share back
Select and build on the best approaches together.
- 20 sec – Refinement Sketching
Back into teams and develop one or two of the selected options in more detail using the 1 up templates
- 37 sec – Constructing the Sketchboards and sharing back
It’s about making it shared, concrete and tangible. Select and build on the best approaches together. Refine the structure and content of the sketchboard in order to set a clear direction for the Customer Experience
- 58 sec – Consolidating the designs
Its worth taking some time after sharing back to clean up and restructure the Sketchboard in preparation for the next round of design.
its worth noting that we brought in a end user (stole them from some user testing) and i got each team to present their designs. I was a very health check point and forced the teams to clarify what they were trying to do, and to quickly find a way to express it.
Output – an photo of the final consolidated sketchboard, and presentation of the work to a wider set of stakeholders
5. Next Steps
Sketchboards are a just a jumping off point for :
- Customer / Business Validation
- Experience Prototyping
- Story writing and estimation
You need to be confident that you have done “Just enough” in order to ensure you have :
- Explored a range of ideas
- Selected and built on the best ones
- A vision for execution that is clear and shared
I hope this helps you in some way. I have run a few of these sessions and while exhausting they can be very effective and the tech and business people love them. Once you stop working in isolated “expert” mode (the default for most UX’ers), and start working collaboratively its hard to turn back. Its simply a more effective, faster and more satisfying way to work.